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Zuzka Vaclavik’s Cosmic Maps at {Poem 88}

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Zuzka Vaclavik, Levitation, 2014; watercolor and enamel on paper, 40 by 31 inches.
Zuzka Vaclavik, Levitation, 2014; watercolor and enamel on paper, 40 by 31 inches.

Zuzka Vaclavik’s recent works, on view in her solo show “Thirst” at {Poem 88}, have a certain complexity, not to mention an eye-catching personality made possible by way of geometric designs in vivid, playful colors. Yet, the whimsicality of these pieces is fused with a peculiar type of perceptual uncanniness, realized by way of her kaleidoscopic compositions that disorient the eye.

Zuzka Vaclavik, from Untitled (Mandala) series, 2014; watercolor, acrylic, gold leaf, silver leaf, colored pencil, and graphite on panel, 14 by 11 inches.
Zuzka Vaclavik, from Untitled (Mandala) series, 2014; watercolor, acrylic, gold leaf, silver leaf, colored pencil, and graphite on panel, 14 by 11 inches.

Pattern and repetition are paramount in Vaclavik’s work. Yet, instead of taking a minimalist approach to seriality, the artist typically repeats organic, earthly formations. This affinity for the natural can be discerned immediately upon entering the gallery—hanging on the wall, at the front of the space, is Unfurl, a drawing on paper and one of two asymmetrical pieces in the exhibition. Caught in the midst of crispation, jewel-toned foliage rhythmically cavorts across the surface, recalling the elaborate natural forms found in Art Nouveau.

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Born in Czechoslovakia, Vaclavick and her parents fled the communist country when she was just a young child, making their home in Germany, where she spent the majority of her youth. Before commencing her graduate studies at the University of Georgia (where she now teaches painting), Vaclavik spent a couple of years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her work, with its spiritual, inward-looking qualities and topographical elucidations, shows the influence of her diverse cultural experiences; moreover, the impact of Eastern religions, along with Jungian archetypes, is especially apparent.

Hung in a seemingly random arrangement on one of the gallery’s walls is a series of 34 small mandala paintings on panel. In Eastern religions, the mandala is said to be a symbol of both the cosmos and consciousness, representing a high level of spirituality. Elements in the mandala are thought to be connected to the inner space of the observer’s mind.

Zuzka Vaclavik, from Untitled (Mandala) series, 2014; watercolor, acrylic, gold leaf, silver leaf, colored pencil, and graphite on panel, 14 by 11 inches.
Zuzka Vaclavik, from Untitled (Mandala) series, 2014; watercolor, acrylic, gold leaf, silver leaf, colored pencil, and graphite on panel, 14 by 11 inches.

The paintings that comprise Unititled (Mandala) deliver this notion of a topographical map routing the way for introspection. If one allows oneself, it’s easy to get lost, to fall into reflection while observing these pieces. Evocations of the eye and the vulva are quite obvious in the works on view. Most have a center, a point of origin (or perhaps, a return, if you will).

In the watercolor Levitation, a richly detailed grid—composed of mirror-image pods containing organically layered forms—seems to sit above and, at the same time, within washes of turquoise, which also contains delicate organic designs, though their number is notably more sparse than the grid’s pods. The center pod is quite distinct when compared to the other eight, its nucleus radiates a pinkish glow.

In the mixed-media collage Cascade, the center pulls the viewer in and then systematically catapults the eye throughout the rest of the composition. Here, the artist includes both her dexterity for delicate, detailed forms (as seen in its floral-like elements) as well as more hard-edged and minimal shapes (the repetitive use of rectangles and a flat, monochromatic circle at the composition’s right).

Zuzka Vaclavik, Cascade, 2014; mixed media and collage, 40 by 28 inches.
Zuzka Vaclavik, Cascade, 2014; mixed media and collage, 40 by 28 inches.

Gold leaf (a prevalent medium in these works) adorns the outer rim of Cascade’s composition, perhaps alluding to the tradition of religious altarpieces. However, placed on top of the gold leaf are numerous shiny gold letters, like the ones found in the craft section of a discount store. The pairing creates  a strange dialectic between the sacred and cheap, and the material and spiritual worlds.

These works are loud, yet simultaneously quiet. They don’t challenge the viewer intellectually, but they offer a space for the mind to wander, like symbolic road maps passed from one traveler to another.